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Ashes to ashes!
by Venu Palaparthi
Jul 08, 2005


The cricketing community, if you could call 2 billion people that, watches with baited breath for the greatest ever sports series on the planet - the greatest between two countries that are not neighbors anyway!

The excitement is palpable. But certainly not for the first time since the 1882 defeat of England to Australia at the Oval that gave rise to the idea of the “Ashes.”

First some history…

After England's loss on August 29th, 1882, the Sporting Times Saturday edition carried the now famous obituary -

“In affectionate remembrance of English Cricket, which died at the Oval on August 29, 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. N.B. The body will be cremated and the ashes will be taken to Australia.”

The Ashes concept turned into a fact when, somewhat mysteriously, but as a consequence of the obituary, an urn containing some ashes became the most coveted trophy that two-nation sport has ever seen. Never since Olympic winners won crowns of olive leaves in the Greek world has such a simple trophy been so desired.

Fast forward to 21st Century!

The urn has gone from one hemisphere to the other in the last 100 plus years retaining all of its magic, if magic can be used in the context of a heap of ashes. But never in the recent history has Ashes been as important as the series that begins later this month.

In 2001 edition of the Ashes, England lost 4 out of 5 matches - all with huge margins. And in the 2002/03 edition, England lost the series in a bad way once again, losing the first four Tests and preventing a whitewash by winning the last test against the hosts in Sydney.

Since that face-off, Aussies have lost just 3 of the 29 tests they have played around the world, winning 21 tests and drawing the rest. Their reign has continued unchallenged at home and away. And having won 63 of the last 83 ODI’s and nearly every test series except the drawn 2003 test series against ‘VVS powered India’, the Aussies remain the superpower of cricket.

More recently…..

Like objects in the rear view mirror, distant records look bigger than they matter! So is the case with Australia’s cricket record. If you look at their more recent performance, especially against the resurgent England, the Aussies look anything but invincible.

In 2004, England beat the Aussies out of the ICC Champions Trophy Semi Finals, winning by six wickets with 3 overs to spare.

Their next meeting was the third match of the NatWest Series on June 19, 2005 immediately after the famous Bangladesh victory over Aussies in Match 2 at Cardiff. England pounded the Aussies by 3 wickets with the twin engines of Pietersen and Harmison serving England well. Pietersen, the not out batsman scored an impressive 91 off 65 balls and Harmison impressed with his bowling – 5 for 33. Aussies won back some pride in their next match which they won by 57 runs.

And the NatWest final was tied – the first tied ODI at Lord’s and the first time a final match was tied ever. Ordinarily, a tied match indicates how balanced the two teams are, but this tie points to more complex issues when you look more closely. First, Australia’s fabled fighting spirit was clearly on the wane just as England’s spirits continued to rise. The Aussies could not capitalize on their success in the early overs when they had England with its back to the wall on 33 for 5 wickets.

Secondly, England’s Harmison continued to cause Australia’s top order a lot of discomfort. In this match, he had an awesome spell of 10 overs, 2 maidens, 27 runs and 3 wickets having knocked out both Martyn and Ponting.

Thirdly, England now had more momentum than its opponent which they carried into the first ODI at Headingley. England just made it very very clear that they were a force to reckon with their thumping 9 wicket victory - their largest ever margin of victory over their old enemy, chasing Australia’s total of 219 for 7. Collingwood and Harmison did all the damage taking 6 valuable wickets between them.

Bowling alongside the under-rated swing bowler Matthew Hoggard and the fiery Welsh quick, Simon Jones, Harmison now leads England’s three-pronged attack against Australia. And we are not counting all-rounder Andy Flintoff - Flintoff was rated the most impressive of England’s bowlers by Australian coach John Buchanan.

The English batting is delivering with all engines roaring including Trescothick who finally answered his critics with a magnificent century in the first ODI. If the English selectors decide to give their latest batting sensation, Kevin Pieteren a Test cap, it just might lend their engines some added turbo power.

Although the perennial underdogs are finally starting to look like real winners in both the NatWest Cricket Challenge and the forthcoming Ashes, it would be too early to write off the Aussies - ask the Indians, they know well by now!

 
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